Food In Canada


Regulatory Labelling: Protect Your Business

regulatory labelling


Sometimes brand owners make bad business decisions that can damage their brand, like trying to save money on the regulatory aspect of food labels.

Regulatory labelling should not be approached as a do-it-yourself project. Legislation is complex, with several sets of regulations coming into play. Virtually everything on a label is covered.

The allergen problem

Labels that do not properly declare allergens (in both official languages) can be devastating for the estimated 1.2 million Canadians affected by food allergies.

Claims are a minefield

Marketers love to make claims, but getting them wrong can put the business at risk. “Wordsmithing” is not an option.

Health Canada has various classifications for claims such as nutrient content, health, functional, composition, comparative and quality. Claims must meet specific criteria and scientific evidence may be required to back them up. Strict regulations prescribe precise wording for certain claims.

“Gluten-free” claims are especially risky in the absence of good manufacturing practices and preventive control measures to prevent cross-contamination.

Beware of deception

Making false or misleading statements can get companies in hot water with CFIA (the Canadian Food Inspection Agency) and erode customer trust in the brand. Regulations extend beyond labels, covering misrepresentation of products promoted on social media, websites, traditional media and marketing collateral.

Crossing the border

If you’re selling food in Canada and the U.S., the rules are not the same and different labels are necessary. Although nutrition facts panels look similar, the requirements are quite different. Adding a sticker is not enough to comply with regulations. Also, the ingredients permitted in food products differ between countries.

What are the risks?

The worst case scenario is when a customer dies or becomes ill. Financial and legal consequences can result in bankruptcy.

Undeclared allergens and false claims are a leading cause of product recalls. Recalls are bad for business. Consider the impact of lost sales, financial penalties, the expense of packaging changes and damage to the brand reputation.

A CFIA investigation and subsequent product recall can be triggered by:

  • consumer complaints and social media posts;
  • competitors reporting a concern; and
  • routine product testing by CFIA.
The onus is on the brand

Some brand owners tell me they rely on CFIA to approve their labels. However, CFIA no longer conducts label reviews and holds brand owners responsible for ensuring labels are compliant.

What’s the solution?

Hire a regulatory specialist to review packaging before going to print. How can you justify the cost? Let’s just say it’s a lot cheaper than a recall.

When choosing a specialist, it’s important to compare apples to apples. A comprehensive regulatory label review requires extensive knowledge of the regulations. In addition to mandatory information, it should include ingredient compliance, allergens, claims and marketing statements.

Another option is to invest considerable time and money in regulatory training that requires a series of courses and keeping tabs on legislative changes.

Protect your brand

Today’s consumers expect authenticity and transparency. Resist the urge to stretch the truth on packaging and when promoting products.

Consumers and the CFIA are increasingly scrutinizing labels and challenging brands to prove their assertions. Taking precautions to comply with regulations will protect your brand and your business.

Birgit Blain makes food products more marketable. Her company advises brands on packaging and label copy to mitigate risks. Learn more at or contact her at [email protected]

© Birgit Blain

This article appeared in the print issue: July/August 2016 Research Chefs supplement.

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